Ivy is widespread in France
and is native to Western, Central and Southern Europe.
Its distribution extends from Southern Scandinavia
in the north to Latvia
and the Ukraine
in the east and southeast to
Western Turkey, Greece
(including Crete) and
Cyprus. It is found up to about
515 m above sea level.
It is a woody climber with distinct juvenile and mature stages,
both with evergreen leaves; the juvenile stage usually has lobed
leaves and rooting stems, and the mature stage has rootless,
flowering shoots with unlobed leaves.
I was always lead to believe when
younger, (as were many people), that Ivy “strangled” trees and was
a thug to be removed but contrary to popular beliefs Ivy is not a
parasite, does not normally damage sound buildings or walls, is
rarely a threat to healthy trees and if we look around it
shouldn’t take long to find plenty of examples of large old trees
supporting Ivy that is of a great age although sometimes small
young trees may become overburdened by the weight, especially when
weighed down with snow.
Photo above: Old Sweet Chestnut tree with mature ivy
What many people are unaware of is that it is one of the most
important native species there is that is critical in the
development and survival of a large number of other important
native species in a variety of ways.
With an especially high fat content the berries provide one of the
most nutritious fruits available to many bird species in winter.
The foliage provides cover for birds, (and other creatures,
especially insects), from the cold in winter and a dense nesting
habitat for a number of different birds.
Photo above: Ivy flower with fly and Honey bee
Perhaps the most important function of mature Ivy is when it
flowers, generally September / October depending on the region and
the weather conditions in any given year. The flowers that are in
spherical clusters produce a distinct and powerful scent which
provide an important late source of both nectar and pollen to over
70 insect species some with a more or less total dependency on it
such as the aptly named Ivy bee. It supplies much need forage for
honey bees to top up their stores for winter and also for Queen
Wasps, Hornets and Bumble bees to feed on prior to hibernation.
The Butterfly, Moth and Hoverfly species that hibernate for the
winter also benefit from the late source of nectar.
Photo above: Ivy bee , Colletes hederae, L'abeille du
Brimstone, Peacock, Large and Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Red
Admiral are all well known butterflies that hibernate as adults
and the much loved Hummingbird hawk moth is one of many moths that
over winter as adults in France.
It’s unclear just how long Ivy can live
if left on a tree and to some extent it will depend on the life of
the tree and obviously if the Ivy is allowed to remain there.
Certainly 50 or 60 years is easily possible and there is a report
of a 433-year-old stem of English ivy that was over 20 inches (60
cm) in diameter, but it is unclear where it occurred (cited in
The biology of vines.
Press: 127-160. ISBN: 9780521392501).
Photo above: Old Oak tree with massive Ivy climbing it
Given the unquestionable importance of mature flowering Ivy we
should try to leave it in place and resist any urges to remove it
and you will be rewarded in autumn when it buzzes on sunny days
with the sound of thousands of bees and insects.